Dana Kane in her studio, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist
Dana Kane in her studio, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist's website.


Dana Kane is a Brooklyn-based visual artist whose work over the past four decades has spanned many mediums ranging from photography and works on paper to sculpture and large-scale installations. Driven by a fascination with historical narratives and notions of identity and environment, Kane relies on intuition as a catalyst for her various projects. Her pieces often employ found materials in the creation of colorful and visually engaging abstract compositions. Whether in the painterly aspect of her photographs or sculptural weight in the subjects of her prints, Kane presents the viewer with an emotional depiction of the world around her, referencing both the political and humorous, the moving and the still.
Kane has had solo exhibitions at Pierogi 2000 in Brooklyn, NY; The Atelier Gallery in Long Island, NY; and Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. She has participated in group exhibitions at Sideshow, Smack Mellon, and Open Studios in Brooklyn, NY; Storefront Ten Eyck and The Active Space in Bushwick, NY; and The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA; among many others. She received the Pollock Krasner Foundation Artist Grant in 2003, and her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA; and M/M Gregorio Napoleone, London; among others.


I guess to start, could you just describe your educational background in the arts? Um, yeah, I went to UNC Greensboro, got an undergraduate degree, a BFA in painting and printmaking. Then I went to Washington University in Saint Louis, and got a masters in sculpture and multimedia.

So, you were always involved in different media I guess? Yeah, always moving around. I went to the Washington University in painting then I switched to sculpture and multimedia.

Got it. In your portfolio I noticed recurring motifs over a large range of media, so you experiment with the physicality of different shapes. And also, you play with geometric flatness on paper… so what inspires your use of different materials? I recently found a treasure trove of paint samples at Home Depot, although I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them. However the infinite variety and subtly of the colors intrigued me. Eventually I cut them up into small diamond shapes, and colors were chosen that reacted optically with each other. So the idea of the work was to create optical compositions- and the goal was to keep the eye bouncing back and forth across the surface of the piece, so the eye is never resting in one spot, it's always moving… kind of like, this color plays with this one, that color plays with that one, and it just changes all the time. So in other words it sort of, refreshes itself in a way, it's always changing.  


Untitled, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist
Untitled, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist's website.


I see the influence of minimalists, op artists, and expressionists in your work; notably Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, and Paul Klee. Are these conscious references? Or do you believe your artistic choices are more personally driven and intuitive? I certainly love and revere those artists because they give the viewer very different gifts -- and there are so many different ways to manifest being an artist. However, when one works in the studio you try to follow a track all your own. And that is not necessarily consciously mapped out-- and that is why you keep going, because you may be (hopefully) discovering something new for yourself as well as for the viewer. In general, when you go into the studio you don't think about what any other artist has done, or try not to, unless of course that is a conscious goal, which is what I did with the Kelly Girls.

So with your color choices, it's not like you're just directly pulling from these artists? Yeah, the other thing that might be interesting for you, is that when I was in undergraduate school, I would take design classes with color, and I was the worst one in the class.

Oh, interesting. I found color very difficult. I still do at times. I just have more luck with it now because I learned how to see.

You probably weren't bad at it- No, you wouldn't believe how bad at it I was. I mean not understanding how to put colors together. However, I eventually learned to see by religiously looking at the paintings of the Modern and Post-Modern Masters. And that happened because of my job. To make a living in New York, I worked as an Art Installer at MoMA, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney. However, the best gig was working at MoMA for seven years. The thing is, when I wasn't installing a show, I was responsible for daily cleaning/maintenance of the Collection. That meant that I had two or three hours a day by myself with the Collection, and I would go from gallery to gallery, from painting to painting. Again and again every single day. That experience was so important to me, because it trained me to see. Just being around those paintings all the time, that was the best schooling I ever had. The early moderns were such masters, and I got and still get a lot from them.  


008 Film Still from Etherland. Image courtesy of the artist
008 Film Still from Etherland. Image courtesy of the artist's website.


Can you explain the process for your older photographic projects, Etherland and Shadowland, and how it varies from the process of your three-dimensional work? Both of those series (Etherland & Shadowland) were discovered by taking the camera out with me and just shooting pictures. Simple as that. Just sort of shooting and looking at what I found. Once I saw something that interested me, then I would follow that route. With Etherland it was the melding of the figures with the environment around them. Then as photographs, they became very painterly -- i.e., the space in the photographs became ambiguous and flat in places. With Shadowland it was the abstraction/exaggeration of figures/shadows that interested me. I am not sure how the photographs relate to the sculpture -- they are such different projects -- but the Kite Series started in the mid-90s, at the advent of the computer and when slides were becoming obsolete. I found myself with boxes of slides of my older work, and I made a kite out of some of the slides, flew it, then released it to the universe. I love the idea of releasing something personal into the wind and just letting it go. Oh, I sometimes wish I was a kite. Kites have interested me for some time, for me they are symbols of freedom (I would love to fly on a kite). But kites have also been used for signaling during wars, and for games and competitions, and of course for sheer fun. In certain countries in Southeast Asia, there are "Kite Fights": bits of glass are glued on to the string, and when two kites clash, the opponents try to cut each other's strings, so that the opponent's kite will fly away… It's very serious business…  

Do you ever find yourself, I guess, starting in one medium and then, kind of, collaborating with other mediums? Or you know, painting and then having an idea to sculpt? I work on so many different projects…The thing is, I believe that artists "work" on their pieces not only on a conscious level, but on a deeper level -- sort of like active day dreaming, or maybe before you go to sleep, or may even during sleep. So, I'll go in the studio and start working on a piece, and then suddenly I find myself working on another idea that had been stewing in my brain, and to my surprise I know what to do because I have already been "working on it." That is, I find that I've made lots of decisions that I wasn't consciously aware of until I started working. I've got so many projects that I would like to do. I never go in a straight line. I'm always moving from project to project.

How do you think the contrast between the political nature of your Map Series and the humor of some of your pieces like Spiral Betty contributes to the overall message of your work? I guess I don't really attempt to have just one overall message -- each series seems to be its own exploration, and when I am done, I move on to something else.  


Spiral Betty. Image courtesy of the artist
Spiral Betty. Image courtesy of the artist's website.


Would you describe some of your work as humorous? Oh, certainly, some of the work is.

And how do you think humor plays a role in your work? Well sometimes, you know, when you are humorous you can get a point across that wouldn't be accepted (and absorbed) otherwise. You get people to accept it on some level because they're laughing at it. Perhaps one would see it with the Kelly Girls.

And the Spiral Betty [laughs]. I suppose.

How did you make the Spiral Betty? You know it's funny, I just started playing around with the traditional rug-making techniques. Just three pieces of cloth, sew and braid them. And serendipitously I had some other things laying around the studio, a female bust without a head, and then it just sort of came to me and I put them together. And I didn't even plan out the color… I started it with white, then went to pink then the green for the bottom…I didn't even know if I had enough material to do it, I just lucked out.

Interesting. Speaking of Land Art, I'm interested in your some of your early site-specific work, especially Dark Day…. How did narrative inspire this installation in Minneapolis? There was a sculpture competition (I believe it was in 1980) right on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. As you may know, most towns along a river are created in response to the river itself-- i.e. there was a falls, and that naturally held up boat traffic, so a town was born (Minneapolis). So, I went to the Historical Society of Minneapolis to read about the history of the city. In one of the older books, there was a tale written about an Indian maiden who went over the falls with her infant because her "husband" took another wife. Although several wives were common among the tribe, he had promised her that he would not take another wife -- and when he did, she took the child and went over the falls. So I decided to create an ice raft in memory of the Indian maiden and her child, and within the ice I froze bio degradable documents and such the story. I actually made one raft for the maiden and one for the child, attached the cubes together with cloth and tied flowers on top, and then released them to go over the falls.  


Dark Day. Image courtesy of the artist
Dark Day. Image courtesy of the artist's website.


Oh, wow. See, it's so funny how much I would never have known about this piece if I hadn't asked you. I didn't even know it was ice! I did a drawing on top of an early map of Minneapolis proposing the project -- and yes, the rafts were made of ice cubes!

Wow, that's so fascinating. I don't know if there's another image of it…do you know if there is? I believe I have some of those images in slide form, somewhere...

Tying everything together, would you say that your main inspiration comes from everyday life and walking around and looking at your surroundings? I think it comes from keeping yourself inquisitive about the world. What interests me now is different from what interested me when I was younger. If you can somehow stay "hungry" and open, then you'll be open to new ideas.

Which direction do you see your work going in the near future? Do you hope to work more in three dimensions with the kite series or continue with color cards? Any new projects? Currently, I have several different ideas that I want to pursue. Right now I am exploring several different ways of working with color; the possibilities seem endless.  

Interview compiled by Linda Moses